The Miami Heat tied the series up against the Oklahoma City Thunder by stealing home court advantage Thursday night and Heat fans could not have asked for anything more.
Well, a Game 1 win to go along with the Game 2 win would have been nice, but beggars cannot be choosers and the Miami Heat escaped after a close one.
Western Conference franchises had not been able to resist a Durant sighting in the fourth quarter, yet the Heat, a team that goes against everything championship basketball fundamentally represents, made key plays down the stretch to ensure a victory. Oklahoma City fans will tell you that it was the referees that won the game, but has officiating really been all that great in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at all?
This is no time to be bitter, as Kevin Durant realized during a postgame presser. It’s time to recognize and move on to Game 3, where things are truly going to become intriguing.
The Miami Heat managed to drop a key Game 5 against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a game that led to LeBron James’ coming out party where he seemingly singlehandedly took on a game of five-on-one.
With little help from Dwyane Wade in that contest, James managed a 45-point game on 19-of-26 from the field. There was a look in his eye that he would not be denied and the trailing games have proven that he is as focused as he may have ever been on the biggest stage the league has to offer.
James hit two critical free throw attempts in clutch time against the Thunder Thursday night and has consistently come up big in crunch time moments in the playoffs. Don’t expect any of that championship mentality to be left in Oklahoma City.
James is on a mission and with Chris Bosh healthy and sitting in his corner, the sky is the limit. Never count out the experienced. Yet, you can never turn your back on the young and hungry, two words that echo what the Thunder embody.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook pulled the Thunder within as little as two points after being down by as many as 18 at one point in the meeting against Miami. It has become general knowledge that Kevin Durant will never be absent when a fourth quarter surge is required and Westbrook will attack without a conscience.
Each player on this team has figured out his strength and is using it to give the Miami Heat an epic battle that fans have become only so lucky to view. Going to Miami for Game 3, the Thunder will not bow out. The LeBron-led Heat are going to do everything in their power to protect home, but Oklahoma City is not just going to wilt away and die.
Their cause is too great and they have come too far in the playoffs to just keel over and raise a white flag. Their competitiveness makes the claim of anything different illegitimate to say the least.
Durant will need to play more disciplined defense in order to stay out of foul trouble, especially playing in the American Airlines Arena while it is likely that coach Erik Spoelstra will lobby for the type of play that will make Durant play LeBron over-aggressively. Durant in foul trouble in Miami is a totally different monster to overcome for the Thunder.
The x-factors of this game are going to be Nick Collison and Dwyane Wade. Collison needs to be a force around the rim to help Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins battle Chris Bosh.
When he gets critically involved in a game for the Thunder, there is rarely an answer for him. He may not be as offensively or defensively sound as Ibaka, but his impact on the spacing of the floor and the amount of attention he garners when he is scoring is effective enough for Oklahoma City to capitalize.
Dwyane Wade, on the other hand, needs to break out of a funk that has fans questioning how long he will be as dominant a force in the league has he had been previously. There is a speculation that Wade has been deferring to LeBron throughout this second season together or even that Wade’s knees have been plaguing him for some time now, causing his game and explosiveness to suffer.
While everyone can admit that Wade is not the man that he once was, there is no one willing to settle for a 19-point game from a superstar in the NBA Finals. It is unacceptable and Wade has to play like a champ from beginning to end, from start to finish.
Prediction: Miami Heat 102, Oklahoma City Thunder 95Watch Miami Heat Live Stream Free Online Game Streaming